Vive la localisation! How to localize into French

Localizing a project into another language is like walking through a minefield. It’s extremely hard to know when you’re going to make a wrong move if you don’t understand all the cultural nuances. Today we’re going to talk about mistakes that can happen when localizing into French. Here are five common errors to keep in mind.

Mistake #1: Thinking there’s only one dialect of French 

Schools tend to teach the French spoken in Paris, but there are quite a few French-speaking countries, including Canada, Congo, and Haiti. In Africa, there are around 88 million French speakers, and the language has acquired different features in every region. You have to keep this in mind when translating. 

Imagine Francophones from around the world talking about how they say girlfriend

Yes, Quebecers call any girlfriend blonde, regardless of whether she actually has blond hair. If translators take this difference into account when localizing games for the Canadian market, players are bound to appreciate it.

This is precisely why developers must decide where they want to sell their game before starting the localization process. Once they have identified these target countries, all they have to do is find localizers who understand the intricacies of the local dialect. Failure to devote care and attention to players will diminish their trust and their enjoyment of the game. 

Mistake #2: Being informal when you should be formal, and vice versa

When localizing from English, you have to remember that French, like most European languages, distinguishes between the formal and informal “you.” During localization, it’s important to note the mode of address used by developers for communication with players, as well as in character speech. 

The informal second-person pronoun is likely not the right choice unless the story has a light and friendly tone. Conversely, an overly formal text may ruin the mood, so decide on the mode of address in advance. Ideally, this decision should be included in the text’s style guide. 

Mistake #3: Assuming English cognates have the same meaning

When it comes to semantics, English and French have many similarities. Both languages were influenced by Latin and belong to the Indo-European language family. However, let’s not forget that they still developed in different ways. 

Everyone knows what a bouquet or café is. So, une librairie is, naturally, a library. Or is it? No, it’s a trap! In French, librairie is a bookstore. You can avoid problems like this if you entrust your localization to native speakers. However, before finalizing any project, you should take a quick look through the text for words that are similar to English in case such so-called faux amis have wormed their way in. 

Mistake #4: Taking jokes too far 

If the writer of a game insists on edgy humor in the text, make sure the jokes are up to scratch. In any case, certain topics shouldn’t be joked about: 

  • Racism. In France, immigrants from Africa and the Middle East are the most common victims of it. Avoid stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, or nationality.
  • Terrorism. The Bataclan massacre and the Charlie Hebdo shooting are still fresh in the minds of the French people.
  • Police brutality. It’s likely one of the most hot-button issues in the U.S. at the moment, but in France the main problem is tied not to issues of race, but to the yellow vest protest movement. Many gilets jaunes were seriously injured after being battered by the police during demonstrations in 2018.
  • Sexism. Misogyny against women in any form.
  • LGBT+. Remove any derogatory and homophobic speech and innuendos from your game. No one appreciates that.

Mistake #5: Forgetting about diacritics and ligatures

Check with developers in advance to make sure the game’s code is capable of handling the diacritical marks and ligatures that abound in French. Diacritics are accent marks, strokes above letters (é), while ligatures are two letters written as one (æ). 

If these symbols are missing due to coding shortcomings, it may not only ruin the player’s experience of the game, but also alter the text’s meaning, making it difficult to understand. For example, un mur is a wall, while mûr means “mature,” or “drunk” in French slang. 

Let’s also not forget to give non-breaking spaces some TLC. When localizing into French, it’s a good idea to enable non-printing characters in your software if you don’t want an exclamation point to end up all alone on a new line. Place non-breaking spaces before colons, semicolons, exclamation points, and question marks, as well as opening and closing quotation marks.

Summing up

It’s always tough to understand another country’s culture on a deep enough level to provide its people with a truly quality product. Follow the rules we mentioned to make players feel valued and deliver an outstanding experience in which they immerse themselves in your story: 

  1. Don’t forget that French differs based on region.
  2. Remember that French differentiates between the formal and informal “you,” and this distinction can impact the mood of a dialogue. 
  3. Try not to fall into a trap with words that are similar to English: they could have a different meaning in French. 
  4. Be careful with humor. Cracking jokes can put you on thin ice—make sure the ice itself doesn’t start to crack. 
  5. Make sure the game’s code can handle diacritics and ligatures. Without them, the meaning of the text can change. 

Be attentive and show your players you care about them, and your French release will be parfait